April 4, 2021 – Agence France Presse
Two months into lockdown, 29-year-old Ella left the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that she was raised in near New York, started wearing trouser pants for the first time and contacted an organization that helps “leavers” adapt to life in wider society.
US groups like the one she approached report increased demand for their services since coronavirus, from people with more time for soul-searching to others troubled by social distancing violations and some who have already left needing counseling and financial support.
Ella, an alias because she has yet to tell her parents that she has quit Orthodoxy, said she was always interested in the world outside her “extremely religious family.” When she was younger she hid romance novels under her mattress and sometimes “pushed” the limits of her community’s strict dress code.
In the summer of 2019, she and her husband took their first steps towards breaking away by moving a couple of miles down the road to a community whose adherence to Jewish law was not quite as strict.
When lockdown happened in March 2020, they found themselves cut off from friends and family, which gave them space and months to think about whether they wanted to take the next step and leave their community altogether.
“We had time to cement our new identity and feel confident that we made the right decision before having to face anybody,” said Ella.
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